Published March 23, 2019
STORRS — The NCAA basketball tournament is not for the faint of heart. In the month of March, every game is a gut-wrenching battle. On Friday night, the No. 10-seed UB women’s basketball team scrapped with seventh-seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a back-and-forth contest that personified March Madness. When the smoke cleared on the Gampel Pavilion court, the UB Bulls had fought off an aggressive opponent to earn an 82-71 victory and advance to the next round of the tournament.
“So fortunate to have a bunch of fighters, who understand what they are fighting for,” Bulls coach Felisha Legette-Jack said at the post-game press conference. “We just beat somebody today. I have such respect for the Rutgers program, for their history, their conference, and all that things that they stand for. But today, they ran into somebody, a team that are fighters. Fighters for their stories, fighters for their sisters and fighters for something that is bigger than basketball.”
Led by 23 points from junior Summer Hemphill, the Bulls traded blows with the Scarlet Knights from the opening tip-off. In the first half, UB was able to shake off Rutgers’ constant full-court press to take an eight-point lead. But early in the third quarter, Rutgers responded by earning its own eight-point lead. With Rutgers holding a 61-59 advantage at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bulls were able to wrestle away the advantage from the Scarlet Knights and work their way toward a hard-fought, 11-point victory.
“It’s a game of runs,” Hemphill said. “We know that Rutgers was going to have some scores and runs. And we were going to have some runs and some scores as well. It was more about the defensive stops and who was going to get more stops. That’s what we predicate our UB defense upon, and offense as well. As long we can get one stop, we can get one score. We just take it one possession at a time.”
The win was even more significant, given the fact that senior Cierra Dillard is the only starter from last year’s Sweet 16 team. The Bulls’ success this season may surprise some people, but it doesn’t come as a shock to Dillard and the rest of the team. Friday’s victory took roots many months ago.
“We didn’t start this in January or February,” Dillard said in a post-game interview. “We started this last June. This is what we focused on. This is what we worked hard for.”
The hard work and determination of this year’s team did not go unnoticed.
“Up to the last three minutes, it was hold your breath. It’s just wonderful,” Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher, director of Catholic Campus Ministry, said moments after the game in the arena’s jubilant UB family and fans section. “I cry when I see it. It’s just so beautiful. I rejoice with them so much. They got a great coach. The team is very blessed.”
When asked for advice for the team moving forward, Keleher said, “Pray, that’s what I do. Pray … and practice!”
The Bulls will face the University of Connecticut at 7 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN.